A cheap dig – nobody expects much from fast food or advertising for that matter – but still irresistible:
More reality checks here.
I will be on the road again tomorrow morning to attend Identity Open Space event in Brussels. The theme is one that has been on my mind for some time – identity. Usually it has been on Samizdata.net in connection with privacy but there is an obvious and fundamental connection between identity and individuals taking control over their online existence. I do go on about identity as a version of branding for companies but in this context it is the cornerstone of people’s ability to manage information about themselves. Sort of like owning your health records or your insurance profile.
There will be no ’speakers’ just an open space session, with
agenda set by attendees. I have been to several events like that some
run by Johnnie Moore (who is an outstanding facilitator) and some run by geeks as a default format at various blogfests. Once you experience it, you can’t go back.
I am really looking forward to spending time with some of my favourite people – JP, Doc, Ben and Philippe. It will also be good to get down to what I increasingly see as the ‘real stuff’ – i.e. out-there thinking, getting hands dirty with technology and not worrying about ROI just yet.
Most of what I write about has an underlying theme. I see the trends in business, communications, media, organisations etc. as a clash of individuals with systems and institutions.
A recent conversation on a mailing list for a project with some online worthies uncovered Chris Locke lurking in there when talking about some background reading. Some of what he said prompted me to search further. I found what I was looking for – his rant from 1995 that made him known as Rageboy. It describes the conflict I see in red hot glowing terms:
And I sit here and some of what I’m hearing is how to
work in the system. Well I say fuck the system — it’s dead it’s stupid
it’s non-responsive it’s counter productive it’s fucking socially evil
and if we put any more of our goddamn time into propping up these dead-
ass morons we deserve what we fucking get.
Just fuck ‘em and move on. I’m sitting around drawing a fat check off these people and it isn’t enough. I don’t want their money. These are deathly structures with no perceptible pulse except for once in a while you run into somebody lost in the fucking halls and maybe you start to talk about something real and then the guy with the fucking glad-hand comes around and tells you can’t do that, you can’t talk.
This is a huge goddamn breakthrough into who knows what and as we sit
here IBM is trying to figure out how to put it in a box and make it sit
up to beg for airholes and fucking cheese. We’re not going to work in
the system because THE SYSTEM DOES NOT WANT US.
From experience I believe that existing systems don’t give up
without resistance. The good news is that for the first time in history
the internet is a place where we can create viable alternatives without
having to blow up the existing ways. The internet has provided a
relatively undisturbed environment in which
people can play and build stuff that works – for them as well as
others. They don’t have to waste time undermining or dismantling an
already dysfunctional system to show how new ways could work. They can
experiment instead of having to ‘fight for the cause’. They can get on
with chatting, connecting, networking, squabbling, playing with ideas and technology that are now scaring the media and
businesses. Bypassing a system by building a better one elsewhere is proving to be far more powerful than
blowing it up. Doesn’t help the old system a bit but makes the rest of us nicer and happier people.
In many ways, if this is a revolution, it is a revolution turned
upside down. For start it’s not those who want the change that are
building the barricades…
A company’s brand should translate employee value into customer value. That’s where real connections occur. In other words, it’s far more productive to envision brands as programs to create value and to create customers, rather than abstract "campaigns." And brands are a mutual endeavor from the get go. They’re powered by customers as much as they are powered by the company.
It is hard to disagree with Brian’s points. So far from disagreeing, I will merely shift the emphasis towards the people within companies. Brands are powered by employees. If powered by customers you may just as well have agencies continue slicing and dicing the demographics as this is nothing new – for most ‘enlightened’ brand people it has always been customers that owned or co-created a brand.
But I will keep repeating that branding is what you do to cattle. When thinking about what we call a brand as an identity, it becomes more obvious that it is employees who determine how a company is perceived by others. It is true that most brands today are not seen that way but the internet is changing this.
The internet’s impact on businesses is akin to removing a roof from a house. Instead of a visitor arriving via the front, being lead down a more or less tidy path to a more or less beautiful façade, everyone can now peer through the top, over the façade, often not even bothering with the door. Branding, advertising, marketing, PR and other corporate communications are all part of the front. But what is the point of building expensive façades when it is the inside that people can now see and judge?
It’s time for some interior design. Not the kind that is impossible to live in after the designers have left. It cannot be a one-off re-arrangement but one that everyone in the company can live and work with. The furniture has not only to look prettier – it is now on display – but also be part of everyone’s daily job. How can this possibly be done (and maintained) by a third party?
The lip service paid by a growing number of marketers and advertisers to Cluetrain is still getting the wrong end of the stick – the customer end. There is another end to the stick and it is the people who work within companies that are holding it the right way up. Cluetrain pointed out that a) employees are people just like your customers (even executives given enough love and care can make good pets) and b) online conversations are putting pressure on the polished façades of corporations. They are doing so in bypassing them, i.e. looking inside companies through the ripped away roof. It is the double pressure from customers on the one side of the edifice and employees on the inside that causes the tension within industries, business models and corporations.
So the message to companies – give your employees freedom to start moving the furniture around. They will make the place look better and probably a lot more functional too. If not, why are you employing them?
Since when did Madison Avenue become the
arbiters of ethics and morality, when advertising per se has been
exaggerating and misleading and lying for decades upon decades? It seems to me almost bizarre and twisted that Madison Avenue
should get to have Don Imus’ fate when he had been spewing similar type
of drivel for countless years.
- Joe Jaffe
Our eyeballs are under attack again. This time from Adobe’s Flash video control.
…the big seller for Adobe is the ability to include in Flash movies so-called digital rights management (DRM) – allowing copyright holders to require the viewing of adverts, or restrict copying.
Adobe has created the first way for media companies to release video content, secure in the knowledge that advertising goes with it," James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research said.
Content publishers are promised "better ways to deliver, monetize, brand, track and protect video content".
The version after next will use the viewer’s webcam (which will be ubiquitous then) and eye-tracking software to make sure that sneaky ad-dodging freeloaders aren’t looking away when an ad’s playing.
Well, I knew the eyeball peddlers won’t give up without a fight…
Dave Winer turns the tables on a woman accusing him of being sexist:
The irony, is that if the person lecturing me were to flip genders in
her own story, she’d probably see her own sexism. Would she lecture a
woman the same way she was lecturing a man? Might she consider the
possibility that the woman is smart, and might be offended by the
assumption that she’s not? Especially if the woman she’s talking to is
20 years her senior? Basically it’s always a mistake to assume you
understand something that the other guy doesn’t.
Agreed. That is why I dislike and actively avoid discussions about women in business or the internet or anywhere else. And get annoyed at the cries for their greater numbers at blogging conferences or in technology or anywhere else. It is not only patronising, but it is labelling people in ways that they might not want to be. Well, I certainly don’t.
I do not deny that there is a difference in the way guys treat girls. A couple of years ago, I spent a whole year writing under a male pseudonym on Samizdata.net – a political blog with a ‘vibrant’ commentariat where people get ‘corrected’ fast and fierce. The experiment was fruitful – the difference was there both for me and for the audience. As a female blogger I got some attention just for being one although I’d like to think I held my own because of my thoughts and writing. As a male blogger, I found it easier to adopt a more direct style, without pre-emptying and hedging against counter arguments I knew would be forthcoming. One commenter admitted in a conversation off-line that he was inclined to be more aggressive in commenting on my ‘male’ posts.
It seems that for guys dealing with guys, the gender doesn’t come into it. For a lot of guys this changes when a woman appears on the scene – consciously or subconsciously. Luckily, for some it doesn’t change anything – I can’t imagine Doc or JP (and many others) changing the flow of their thoughts and musings depending on the gender of the person they are engaging with. And that’s all I ask for.
Jonathan Schwartz recounts his wedding night:
So we went to another hotel. Just down the road, we ended up marching
in at 10:30 at night, in full wedding garb, still. The restaurant was
closed, as was the bar. Everything was. And I went up to the clerk at
the front desk and asked if they had any room. He was kind enough to
notice the wedding dress, and asked if we’d been at a wedding – I
explained yes, I’d just gotten married, and he said he’d take care of
He opened the lobby, turned on all the lights, and recruited a couple
employees to reopen the bar, and make us feel at home. They served us
until the wee hours of the morning, put up with our noisy reunion, then
put my wife and me in a beautiful room, and found other rooms for our
friends. They managed to put a handwritten note in our room,
"Congratulations," it said, next to a bottle of champagne. I don’t
remember what they charged us – I remember feeling like it was nowhere
near their going rate. The following morning, fresh faces at the
checkout desk somehow knew to offer their best wishes.
What’s a brand?
It’s not a logo, an ad campaign or a money back guarantee. At minimum,
it’s a promise that helps to define those items. Beyond that, it’s a
cause that gives definition to the ill-defined, that tells you how to
deal with the unexpected or the uncomfortable. It’s what motivates you
to hire that fellow at the front desk, and to foster his instinct to
feel, "Eureka, I found an opportunity to build an evangelist!"
That’s not about money or resources or training or contracts.
It’s a cause. One your employees – and more critically, your customers
- willingly join.
Yes and yes again. It seems to me that branding has lost its meaning. How can a concept created by someone outside the company, detached from and then imposed on people who work for it become their cause? It wasn’t the ‘brand’ that salvaged Jonathan’s wedding celebration and turned it into a pleasant memory. It was the people who worked in the hotel. Their understanding, compassion and care, which no brand guru or campaign can inspire.
…at least when it comes to advertising agencies unable to see how their role is so diminished as to be
non-existent and grasp for things well outside their reach. Redefining advertising as a ‘product offering’:
…brands hoping to leave a lasting impact
on consumers have to start thinking of their brands as product
offerings, explained Nick Law, R/GA’s chief creative officer, North
America. "Content can be a product," said Torrence Boone, president of
Digitas, Boston. "We’re thinking less about messaging today and more
R/GA’s Law pointed to the Nike
Plus campaign, which he spearheaded last year. To build a closer
relationship with the runners, Nike Plus gives them the ability to
record workouts on their Apple iPod Nano using a chip in their Nike
running shoes. Users can then instantly upload and view their workouts
on an illustrated graph online.
"That is not an advertising idea, it’s a technology idea,"
The real shocker is hearing them call for becoming part of the product development.
"We are delivering a product, an application."
Going even further, Steven Marrs, vice chairman and global head of
digital and branded content at Nitro, said agencies need to become part
of the product development process for clients. "Coming up with product
innovations," Marrs said. "That’s what we’re setting out to do."
I am sorry, since when agencies have become a hotbed of product innovation? They don’t care about the customers, they care about packaging eyeballs for their clients. They wouldn’t know what a user is if s/he hit them in the face. Creative means you can sit back and watch images flash (pun intended) across your screen. Interactive means you can click on it. They are slicing and dicing you, counting the legs and dividing
by four, bringing in the sheep.
This Hugh’s cartoon captures the industry for me.
Agencies are subservient towards their clients but turn into command-and-control freaks when dealing with customers and markets. They help companies to extend their reach where they are not welcome – into our minds and attention spans. This doesn’t make them good candidates for survival in an environment where the audience rules. And it gets worse than that – people, formerly known as audience, have become creators and distributors, not only viewers and users. This is the world where the demand side is supplying itself and the distance and the space in which intermediaries can operate has been steadily shrinking.
Adverts are not a product offering, marketing is not a conversation and branding is what you do to cattle. Companies need to get out there without the agency crutches. At first, they may have to hobble a bit but it is the only way to bring life to their atrophied ability to connect with those who buy and use their products and services.
The Net is the best platform for free enterprise ever created. How do we help get that
built out for everybody? I suggest that we’ve barely started, and that
what Cringely gets from Comcast (and what most of us get from whatever
company provides it) is still just an early prototype.
- Doc Searls in What Net do we want?
Dave Winer on search results lack of relevance:
Now it may have been cute in 2001 or 2002, but by 2007, with search integrated into society at a very deep level, and only getting deeper — it seems like it’s way past time to fix this. And we know how to do it, and it’s not even very hard.
How? Integrate social networking and search and learn what people who I’m connected with, people like me, choose when they search for RSS and adjust the results accordingly. It’s collaborative filtering applied to search. If Google doesn’t do it, Yahoo, Microsoft, Ask or a startup should.
I think search is a rather primitive way of navigating in the network of networks that we call the internet. It has served its purpose well and has dramatically changed the way we find, retrieve and use information. But filtering is what I am after and there are many more ways to do that than a simple search box. Some of it won’t be done by machines only. This is where distinguishing between what can only be done by a human brain and what can be done by an artificial one will make the difference.